Pathogenesis of Wild-Type-Like Rhesus Cytomegalovirus Strains following Oral Exposure of Immune-Competent Rhesus Macaques

Yujuan Yue, W. L.William Chang, Julia Li, Nancy Nguyen, Kimberli A. Schmidt, Philip R. Dormitzer, Xinzhen Yang, Peter A. Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rhesus cytomegalovirus (RhCMV) infection of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) is a valuable nonhuman primate model of human CMV (HCMV) persistence and pathogenesis. In vivo studies predominantly use tissue culture-adapted variants of RhCMV that contain multiple genetic mutations compared to wild-type (WT) RhCMV. In many studies, animals have been inoculated by nonnatural routes (e.g., subcutaneous, intravenous) that do not recapitulate disease progression via the normative route of mucosal exposure. Accordingly, the natural history of RhCMV would be more accurately reproduced by infecting macaques with strains of RhCMV that reflect the WT genome using natural routes of mucosal transmission. Here, we tested two WT-like RhCMV strains, UCD52 and UCD59, and demonstrated that systemic infection and frequent, high-titer viral shedding in bodily fluids occurred following oral inoculation. RhCMV disseminated to a broad range of tissues, including the central nervous system and reproductive organs. Commonly infected tissues included the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder, and salivary glands. Histological examination revealed prominent nodular hyperplasia in spleens and variable levels of lymphoid lymphofollicular hyperplasia in lymph nodes. One of six inoculated animals had limited viral dissemination and shedding, with commensurately weak antibody responses to RhCMV antigens. These data suggest that long-term RhCMV infection parameters might be restricted by local innate factors and/or de novo host immune responses in a minority of primary infections. Together, we have established an oral RhCMV infection model that mimics natural HCMV infection. The virological and immunological parameters characterized in this study will greatly inform HCMV vaccine designs for human immunization. IMPORTANCE Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is globally ubiquitous with high seroprevalence rates in all communities. HCMV infections can occur vertically following mother-to-fetus transmission across the placenta and horizontally following shedding of virus in bodily fluids in HCMV-infected hosts and subsequent exposure of susceptible individuals to virus-laden fluids. Intrauterine HCMV has long been recognized as an infectious threat to fetal growth and development. Since vertical HCMV infections occur following horizontal HCMV transmission to the pregnant mother, the nonhuman primate model of HCMV pathogenesis was used to characterize the virological and immunological parameters of infection following primary mucosal exposures to rhesus cytomegalovirus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01653-21
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Mucosal pathogens
  • Nonhuman primate
  • Rhesus
  • Shedding
  • Viral immunity
  • Viral pathogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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